Before Rakhi Sawant and Mumait Khan made an entry into our lives, the word 'item' held a more purer meaning. It indicated the group we belonged to for Sports, and thus dictated how we spent the best days at PS.
Though Sports Time was without doubt the most exciting of all the phases spent in the year, the low points for me have been the 'items' that I have been part of.
It's better off in the First Standard. As a first grader, you really have no clue what is going on around you. You are made to stand 'heightwise" and then made to take your place in rows and taught some 'steps'. You are shepherded from the dormitory to the dining hall and the field. You are baffled as to why anyone would leave a wonderful breakfast of Chitraannam and go running to the field screaming "Swami came, Swami came!". You were still not comfortable with the idea of drinking Rasna from drums and your entire day was spent in "One, two, three, four, five, six, seveeeeen, eight!". You just enjoyed the days without books, classes, and 'meditation times' and hoped today was not the last day of this month long festival. When I was in my first standard, I was in 'Dumbles drill'. We wore some exotic Oriental hats, and carried dumbles in our hands and did some steps to the tune of 'Nanne munne bacche tere mutthi mein kya hai'. I remember being in the first row. Initially, I had trouble understaning that I had to stick to the right corner of my 'box', which was formed by 'tracks' on the field. These tracks were geometricaly perfect squares made of chalk that could put Julian Beaver to shame. I remember I used to keep moving from left to right and behind me another 15 would do the same. It was utter confusion, but enjoyable nonetheless. I remember telling my father that we had just had a one month holiday and feeling that my parents' choice of school for me wasn't all that bad, after all.
The real excitement came in Class 2. By this time, you knew what was coming. In this year, I was in this drill called 'Santa and Sardar' drill. This drill consisted mainly of alternate columns of children dressed as Sardarjis and Santa Clauses. I was a Santa Claus and my role consisted mainly of joyfully jumping around. The good thing about being small is that even your mistakes seem cute (not to your teachers, of course) and so there wasn't too much fuss about attaining Aamir Khan-ish perfection in the steps, as was the case in later years with all those dance items. The guys who were Sardars had the more complicated moves, and had to practice with handkerchiefs on their fingers. We guys just pranced about with utmost buffoonery. On the final day, since we were Santa Claus and no one has ever heard of a young, dapper Santa, we were given fake beards and moustaches to look the part. Some very practical person came up with the idea of pasting the beards to our skin with Fevicol. In addition, we were given green Santa bags which had helium balloons in them, to be let off at the end of the item.
The balloons bit was fun. Some of them would fly off before they were put in our bags. And some of them wouldn't fly at all, much to the chagrin of some of our guys, who would attempt to blow their balloons, blissfully forgetting their 'steps'. The Sardar guys did not have the balloons, and instead had stupid shiny handkerchiefs tied to their fingers. I felt good! Till the time we were asked to take off the costume. This was the teary part. I remember my beard came off in bits, and I had to be chased around to take off the last bit. I wish those Fevicol ads had come out at that time. The teachers would have realised the repurcussions to us. That must be the only time in the history of the planet when you would find 50 Santas, all in tears!
By the time we came to Class 3, we were grown up. We could say 'Shut Up' without our names going to mam. And when we were reallly angry, we could also utter the three 'B's - 'Bloody, Bum, Bastard'. The teachers came to ask us how many of us knew how to cycle. I saw some people raise their hands in the class. Not to be embarassed, I raised my hand too.
We were taken to the field for the auditions. When my turn came, I froze. I had never really ridden a cycle. The only time I had so much as sat on a cycle was in my native place. I sat on the front rod of my uncle's cycle and the experience was a pain in the ass, quite literally. And here I was. I still remember the cycle, it was brown and did not have a straight rod, but a curved one. But it could have been a Hungarian Horntail for all it was worth. Uma mam and Sashi mam were incharge, and they made me sit on the cycle. I gingerly pedalled a little, only to fall on the teacher on the left, who pushed me a little to steady myself. This caused me to fall to the right. After playing 'pass-pass' with me for a while, they realised I was as close to riding a cycle as flying a plane. I was reprimanded for lying and stood back and watched some of the other liars make fools of themselves.
All of us rejects had to be put in some other drill. A selection was made and some of my friends, like Mohanty, were selected for the 'Fisherman' drill. This selection was done purely on the basis of how rotten your luck was, it was not as if he was better than me at fishing or anything. The 'Fisherman' drill was at least better. It was for the senior guys, and the tune was the monster hit of the time, 'Tu cheez badi hai mast'.
And guess where I was put? In a god-awful drill called the 'Horse and Star' drill. And the worst part was that it was the 1st and 2nd standard boys' drill. Kids, who weren't even allowed to say 'Shut Up'. Now, this drill was absurd to say the least. We were to run along carrying a stick in between our legs, that would have the head of a horse at the front. To add to the machismo, there were big, fat golden stars stuck on our palms. I remember the indignity of it all. While my friends were zipping and zapping through the field in their cycles, here I was, running with a goddamned stick like Neville Longbottom trying to get on a Firebolt. Humiliating to say the least.
4th standard was alright, I guess. At least I was with guys of my own class. This was called the 'Caps and Wheels drill' or something. Where we wore red, foldable versions of Queen Elizabeth's hats. Of course, it was the surprise. The foldable cap was tucked in our shirts. In the middle of the act, we turned back, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seveeeen, eight! and when we faced the audience again, Presto! we were wearing Elizabeth's caps again. There were also these wheels that we held in our hands that were battery operated and would rotate when we pressed the button. Work of a genius who was totally aware that we were about 100 metres away from the stage in the first place.
5th standard was another low point. I don't remember what I had missed out on, but here I was, with juniors again. 3-4th standard guys who still wrote with pencils. And this act was another unbridled display of masculinity, called the 'Ribbon drill'. It involved holding a stick that had a ribbon tied to it and making beautiful shapes out of it. Not only that, there would be poles and all of us, would put one hand on our waists and run around the pole in circles, multitasking to ensure that our ribbons made beautiful patterns all the time. I mean, who on earth comes up with these ideas? Aren't they aware of the long-term effects on the minds of the children? Real depressing stuff again. I remember when we used to be going back home in the 'Orissa Group', we used to get to talk to the girls. And I remember how desperately I would try to change the topic when it came to sports, lest the girls I had a crush on din't ask me what 'item' I was in. There was this one year senior girl whom I had a crush on. Unfortunately, the topic drifted to Sports and my bloody friends simply had to boast about how they were in all these cool items like 'Cycling' and 'Poles' and stuff.
"So what item were you in?"
After unsuccesfully trying to ignore her, one guy revealed that I was in 'Horse and Stars'.
"What? Horse and Stars?" I remember her laughter, it sounded cruel and harsh.
I am pretty sure that was the last time I spoke to her.